New Office 365 Plans Coming For Small Businesses

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As part of the evolution of Office 365, the service is going to see three new plans this October, per a post on the Office Blogs on July 9.

The three new plans, catered towards small businesses (from 1 user to 300 users), will eventually replace the existing Small Business, Small Business Premium and Midsize Business plans.

 

Office 365 Small Business Plans
Office 365 Small Business Plans

The new plan details are as follows:

Office 365 Business

This plan is more in line with the Office 365 Personal and Office 365 Home in that it is essentially the desktop Office suite available on a subscription basis. Compared to the consumer edition of OneDrive that comes with Office 365 Personal and Home, Office 365 Business will come with the 1TB of OneDrive for Business. The applications included in the desktop suite are Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Publisher. Curiously, no mention of Access.

This plan will cost $8.25 user per month.

Office 365 Business Essentials

This plan includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online and Yammer, but there is no desktop software subscription included. It will also have the 1TB of OneDrive for Business.

This plan will cost $5 per user per month.

Office 365 Business Premium

This is somewhat of a combination of the above two, so it comes with the desktop suite as well as online versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync along with the 1TB of OneDrive for Business.

This plan will cost $12.50 per user per month.

Office 365 Small Business Plans ComparedOffice 365 Small Business Plans Compared
Office 365 Small Business Plans Compared

 

Some overall benefits include the ceiling of these plans being raised to 300 seats, as well as being able to upgrade to Enterprise plans if the growth of the company goes beyond that number. Additionally, since the new Business Premium plan replaces a plan that currently costs more ($15 per user per month), current customers on that plan will see the reduced cost applied at the next renewal. All of these plans of course unlock the ability to edit documents on Office apps for iPad.

This announcement comes days before the annual Worldwide Partner Conference, with a clear intent to incentivize partners to sell these plans to small businesses, which should be the most likely candidates to move to the cloud given their limited IT resources.

Are you an existing small business Office 365 customer? Do these plans sound interesting to you? Let us know in the comments.

 

Images courtesy Office Blogs

No Ambulance Needed: Unexpected Diboson Excess at LHC Keeps Super-Symmetry Alive

The grapevines are buzzing again – and there is again a sliver of hope. Many believe that Super-Symmetry (SUSY), the purported next step in high-energy physics is almost dead, with the LHC, the big boy on the block, finding no signatures of it as yet. Just this week, however, a paper and a presentation at the prestigious global International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP), happening in Valencia, Spain, aims to correct that situation a bit. They shout ‘Stop the Ambulance‘, employing a nice play on words.

An event consistent with the Higgs decay. It can decay into two Z-bosons, which can give the four muons (red lines in the pic).
An event consistent with the Higgs decay. It can decay into two Z-bosons, which can give the four muons (red lines in the pic).

What’s left to know?

Their claim is simple – we have seen an excess number of events, unexpected if the known Standard Model of Particle Physics is all there is. The Standard Model (SM) forms the backbone of known particle physics, and it has been rigorously verified over decades. With the discovery of the Higgs, almost exactly 2 years ago, it is believed to the ‘complete’. Physicists are now looking into the chinks in the armour of the SM, hoping to find a crack here or a broken seam there through which they can glimpse some new physics. So far, the armour has been imposing and flawless, but there are still checks to be done.

One of the most important particles in the SM is the W-boson. It can either be positive or negative. All processes producing these bosons are well-known and calculated. Basically we know how they are produced quite accurately. So far, all measurements confirm our theoretical calculations. However, this group reports on an excess of diboson production seen by the LHC, which basically means that there are more pairs of W-bosons being created than expected from the SM.

There’s more

What is more intriguing is that the single W-boson production rates, the single Z-boson (a companion to the W, but neutral in charge), WZ production and a pair of Z-boson productions rates have matches with the predicted SM rates. The pair of W-bosons just don’t seem to comply – and the discrepancy isn’t too small. What more, the discrepancies are in the same direction for both the CMS and ATLAS collaborations of the LHC.

The authors of the paper have taken up a simplified model, consisting of the SM and a few SUSY particles and have showed that their model fits the data way better than the SM. Their model has a light stop, winos and binos.

That said, the data is still quite inadequate to claim anything solid. Everyone is eyeing the 2015 restart of the LHC runs. Let’s hope that SUSY survives till then.

App Developer Focused On Music? Use Xbox Music API and Make Money!

The folks over at Microsoft’s Xbox Music Developer group announced on July 3 that they were extending the Xbox Music API more generally to all third party developers. This REST-based API, announced at //Build earlier this year, encompasses metadata, deep linking, playback and collection management.

This means, a developer with any interest in pulling up information or content related to music, can now use the Xbox Music catalog and resources and integrate them into their apps. There are various possibilities like a video editor being able to use background music, video game makers allowing custom soundtracks, or something as simple as a band’s fan page pulling up metadata from their catalog on Xbox Music.

 

Xbox Music API Features
Xbox Music API Features

The more interesting news in the blog post comes later, where they announce an affiliate program:

Every user you redirect to the Xbox Music application can earn you money on content purchases and Xbox Music Pass subscriptions. You currently will earn a 5 percent share on purchases and as the Xbox Music pass is at the core of our service, 10 percent on all music pass payments for the lifetime of the subscription.  In the US for example, that’s one dollar, per user, per month!

That’s no small change, if you ask me. The Xbox Music Pass is a pretty good deal as it is, and if a developer can lead someone to that vastly underrated product and their customer is able to sign up, a 10% commission is pretty sweet.

 

Xbox Music Affiliate Program
Xbox Music Affiliate Program

The headwinds are strong for Xbox Music because established players like Spotify have also opened up their catalog to developers in a similar fashion. It remains to be seen if the developers find the API and/or the affiliate terms strong enough of an incentive to build against the Xbox Music API vs the others.

 

Integrate Xbox Music API Everywhere
Integrate Xbox Music API Everywhere

One thing to bear in mind is the new Microsoft is not going to remain uni-platform anymore. They have shown all signs of being completely platform-agnostic to prepare for the new normal where Windows becomes just another platform that Microsoft services support.

Are you a developer building apps which require music? Are you using Spotify or anything else? Would you sign up for Xbox Music Developer program? Let me know below.

 

[All images courtesy Microsoft/Xbox blogs; header image is from the author’s computer]

Powerful and Inexpensive Lumia 635 Available on T-Mobile and MetroPCS in July

Lumia 635
Lumia 635

The extremely affordable Lumia 521 (a variant of the Lumia 520, made for T-Mobile) has a successor. Microsoft announced on July 1, that the first Windows Phone 8.1 device for the US will be arriving on T-Mobile/MetroPCS soon.

The schedule is a bit hairy, so here goes:

  • From July 5, this phone can be purchased via the Home Shopping Network
  • From July 9, it can be ordered online at t-mobile.com
  • From July 16, it will be available at T-Mobile stores
  • From July 18, it will be available at select MetroPCS stores

The pricing is $0 down and $7/month for 24 months or a promotional price of $99 off-contract.

 

Lumia 635
Lumia 635

The phone has a 4.5” screen combined with a quad-core Snapdragon processor, and unlike its predecessor, it works on the fast 4G LTE speeds. The phone will come pre-loaded with Windows Phone 8.1 and its personal digital assistant Cortana.

It is also one of the first phones to include software-based buttons on the front as well as SensorCore, the technology which enables low-power tracking of various sensors in the phone.

Here’s an official hands-on video:

I am a big fan of these low-cost Windows Phone devices, and I love my Lumia 520. Most apps work flawlessly on my 520 (subject to the 512MB RAM limits) and I am sure the same will be true for the Lumia 635. Another improvement in this phone over the 520 is that the microSD card slot can accept cards up to 128GB, and Windows Phone 8.1 allows apps and media to be stored on the expansion slot, so the 8GB default storage is no longer a concern.

Windows Phone has not picked up any steam in the US market and while in the rest of the world has shown a fondness for the low-cost Windows Phone, it remains to be seen if the Lumia 635 can change any of that. I am considering swapping out my 520 for the 635. Are you thinking about getting one?

Windows Store and Windows Phone Store: Website Apps “Problem”

I have noticed a slightly disturbing trend in Windows (and Windows Phone) apps, and that is “big brand” apps being released as a website wrapped in an app. I am going to refer to three specific examples I stumbled upon recently, but please note these apps are not the only ones with this issue.

Let’s take a look at United Airlines app to start with. Here’s the app’s opening screen:

 

United Airline App Home
United Airline App Home

Even at the first glance you can tell this is the website being rendered inside the app. I don’t have a problem with HTML inside apps, but just throwing the website as is into the app makes for terrible user experience especially on touch. For example, you can see that the links are so dense that they will make it hard to tap:

 

United Airlines Travel Info Page
Travel information page

Even some other “pages” in the “app” where the density is not so high, the layout does not feel native at all:

 

United Airline Products Page
United Airline Products Page

Finally, compare the screenshots above to the United Airlines website:

 

United Airline website
United Airline website

So yes, the Windows Store team can claim we have a genuine and official app for United Airlines, but as a user I’d much rather just go to the website than use the app.

It gets worse in the evite app, whose main screen is shown below:

 

Evite App Home
Evite App Home

When I tapped the header image in the app, I was brought to the details page. So far, so good. The touch targets are big enough, the layout does not look like a website but it is because evite’s website is designed that way.

 

Evite App Section
Evite App Section

However, the issue arises when I tap something in the details page, it launched the evite website! That is terrible, because the app itself is the website, so why should it throw me out of the app and open the website?

 

Evite App Clicks To Website
Evite App Clicks To Website

For comparison, here’s the evite website:

 

Evite website
Evite website

Finally, the Orbitz app, where you will see a link to their mobile apps!

 

Orbitz App Home
Orbitz App Home

See the Orbitz website below, which looks exactly like the app:

 

Orbitz website
Orbitz website

Starting from scratch as a distant third in the mobile ecosystem wars, Microsoft is in a bad situation when it comes to breaking the Catch-22 of users not buying Windows devices because of lack of apps and developers not building apps for Windows because of low volume of Windows devices sold. I have seen other desperate attempts by Microsoft, like encouraging student developers to submit apps without much regard to quality of the apps. We have also seen Microsoft getting caught submitting web wrappers in their own name, for popular products and services like Southwest Airlines. This could very well be another such attempt to get big brands in the Windows and Windows Phone Stores, but I am unclear how it benefits the end users. The fact that several such apps have been released recently points to some level of green lighting by Microsoft, even if they are not the ones making it.

The least Microsoft can do now, is to make sure the layouts are modified to make them touch-friendly. Don’t get me wrong though, there are a lot of good, big brand apps coming to both Windows and Windows Phone lately, and I am really happy about that as a user in that ecosystem. Also, increasingly the apps are being released as “Universal” where you buy/download on Windows and it becomes enabled on other Windows/Windows Phone devices (and vice versa). This trend is also great news for the ecosystem.

Do you agree that these apps are close to “junk”? Are you ok seeing such “apps”? Let me know in the comments!

Digiflip Pro XT 712 Tablet Unboxing and Review

Last week, Flipkart stepped into the electronics market with the launch of its own tablet – the Digiflip Pro XT712. Much like the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Digiflip will serve as a vehicle to increase customer engagement with various Flipkart products. However, unlike the Kindle, Digiflip doesn’t quite put Flipkart left, right, and center. Instead, it offers an almost pure stock Android experience with a couple of bundled Flipkart apps. But, before getting into the details of the software, let’s take a closer look the hardware.

Digiflip by Flipkart

Unboxing the Digiflip

The packaging is neat and functional. Lifting the thermocol seat that comfortably houses the Digiflip, reveals the accessories compartment. Included in the package are a power adaptor (along with an USB cable), an in-ear earphone, an earphone converter, a manual, and a soft wipe. I also ordered the book case, which was available at 50% discount.

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 1

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 2

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 3

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 4

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 5

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 6

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 7

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 8 Flipkart Digiflip Unboxing

Appearance and Display

The Digiflip is sturdily built, and feels solid and reassuring. There’s no metal here, but the polycarbonate body manages to avoid the cheap plasticky feeling. The power button and volume controls are on the top left, but there is no physical camera button. The 3.5 mm earphone jack is on the top, while the micro-USB port is at the bottom. The speaker grill is just beneath the front camera.

The Digiflip Pro sports a 7’’ IPS display with a resolution of resolution of 1280 X 800, which amounts to a 216 ppi pixel-density. If you look closely, you can spot the pixels, and outdoor visibility is just about decent. However, considering the price range, the display is actually quite decent, with good contrast and viewing angles.

Flipkart Digiflip Tablet - Front
Flipkart Digiflip Tablet – Front
Flipkart Digiflip Tablet - Side
Flipkart Digiflip Tablet – Side

Hardware

Perhaps the weakest point of the Digiflip Pro is the hardware powering the tablet. It uses the low-end MediaTek MT8382 chipset, which houses a 1.3 GHZ Quad Core CPU. GeekBench3 benchmark suggests that the CPU is on par with flagships from a couple of years back. The GPU is Mali 400 MP2 clocked at 500 MHz This is even weaker than the CPU, and is comparable to GPUs that Android flagships like the Galaxy SII were using as far back as 2011. Quite obviously, with such an outdated hardware, the Digiflip Pro doesn’t fare very well in synthetic benchmarks.

Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark - Geekbench 3 Single Core
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark – Geekbench 3 Single Core
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark - Geekbench 3 Multi Core
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark – Geekbench 3 Multi Core
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark - Basemark X
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark – Basemark X
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark - 3D Mark
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark – 3D Mark

Synthetic benchmarks aside, the Digiflip performs quite well for regular day to day tasks. Web browsing experience is smooth, as is watching videos on YouTube. It handles casual games like EA Golf and Score! With ease, but if you’re planning on playing more heavy duty games, this is not the tablet for you.

Multimedia

The Digiflip features a 5 megapixel rear camera with flash and autofocus that’s capable of recording videos at 1080p. The front camera is takes snaps at 2 megapixels. On paper all of these specs sound decent enough, but specs can be deceiving. There’s no way to sugar coat this. The Digiflip camera is bad. Both the front and the back camera fail to take a decent picture in any lighting. Using the flash over exposes the picture to the point of hiding any detail in the image. Here are a few sample images captured with the rear camera.

Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample - Outdoor
Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample – Outdoor
Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample - Indoor with Florescent Light
Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample – Indoor with Florescent Light
Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample - Indoor with Flash
Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample – Indoor with Flash

Flipkart uses MxPlayer, which is a great decision, given that it’s one of the most versatile players available in the market. MxPlayer managed to play back any video I threw at it, and had no issues in with playing back 720p HD videos, even with software renderer. 1080p videos, however, proved to be too much to handle for the software renderer (none of the formats I had worked with hardware renderer).

The stereo speaker won’t impress anyone with its loudness or quality, but it gets the job done. And, thankfully, it’s front-facing, which means most of the time (but not always) it’s loud enough to be audible. As I mentioned earlier, the Digiflip accessories bundle also includes an earphone adaptor. The reason behind this is that the Digiflip uses OMTP standard, which pretty much everyone else has abandoned. If you want to use your Apple devices compatible existing earphone on the Digiflip or the Digiflip earphone on other new electronic devices, you’ll need to use the bundled CTIA-OMTP converter. As far as the earphone itself is concerned, it’s not very good. But, even using a different pair will only help improve sound quality marginally, as Digiflip’s audio processor itself seems to produce a lot of noise.

Connectivity options include dual-SIM 3G HSPA+, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and USB OTG. There’s no NFC. The battery is not removable and is rated at 3000 mAh battery with a talk time of around 8 hours. Digiflip ships with 16 gigs of internal storage (out of which about 12 gigs is available to the user), and supports micro SD cards up to 32 GB.

Software

The Digiflip runs an almost stock Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean). While I’m glad that Flipkart chose to provide a near stock experience, it’s disappointing that the version of Android that Digiflip is shipping with is over sixteen months old. Given that there are no custom modifications to handle, I don’t understand why the Digiflip couldn’t ship with KitKat. What’s worrying is that Flipkart hasn’t even committed to shipping KitKat or newer builds.

Flipkart Digiflip Homescreen
Flipkart Digiflip -Homescreen
Flipkart Digiflip - Version Info
Flipkart Digiflip – Version Info

While Flipkart hasn’t modified the core Android experience, the Digiflip comes bundled with Flipkart shopping and eBook apps, which aren’t removable. The eBook app comes bundled with a dozen eBooks work Rs. 2, 300, while the shopping app includes various coupons with a cumulative discount of Rs. 5000. Each coupon can only be used once, and is valid until the end of the year.

Flipkart Digiflip - Free eBooks
Flipkart Digiflip – Free eBooks

Conclusion

The Digiflip is a rather well rounded tablet, whose main draw is obviously the low price point (Rs. 9,999). The added goodies thrown in by Flipkart (including a Platronics Bluetooth headset) sweeten the deal further. The weakest link of the Digiflip is its low-end chipset, which makes it unsuitable for heavy duty tasks. The camera output is also disappointing. However, the near stock Android helps the tablet to remain snappy and it’s well suited as a media consumption device. The Digiflip is all about making the right compromises. It doesn’t have any killer features to set it apart from the crowd. However, there’ also no Achilles’ heels. For a budget tablet, that can often prove to be enough.

Round-up of Everything Announced At Google I/O 2014

The first day of the 2014 edition of Google I/O was jam packed with new product and feature announcements. Some had leaked in advance, many were expected, while the rest took everyone by surprise. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the conference, here’s a round-up of everything (well, almost everything) announced by Google.

Google-IO-2014

Android L Release

The big news was of course new edition of Android. Google referred to the next-gen Android as simply the ‘L release’. The L release will be available to the general public in the fall of 2014; however, for the first time ever, Google will be providing a developer preview, which is expected to be released later today.

Android-L-Material-Design
Android L Release – Material Design

The L release will sport a massive design overhaul as a part of Google’s new cross-platform design principle called Material design. Material design, which will be used across Google properties, including Android and Chrome OS, builds on top of the flat design trend by adding a sense of depth and lighting, beautiful typography, and intelligent animations that enable seamless transition between content. Material design is vibrant, fresh and cheery without appearing to be immature. Based on the demos shown by Google, Material design feels like a brilliant evolution of a lot of concepts introduced by Microsoft’s Metro design language.

The L release’s enhancements aren’t just skin deep though. In fact, Google is throwing out the Dalvik Virtual Machine and replacing it with the Android Run Time (ART). ART is already present in KitKat devices as an optional alternative; however, in the L release, ART will be completely replacing Dalvik. ART uses various optimizations (including Ahead of Time code compilation, enhanced garbage collection, and 64 bit support) to offer significant performance benefits. Google is also working with hardware manufacturers on Android Extension Pack, which will enable game developers to provide console quality graphics on mobile devices.

Android-L-ART
Android L Release – ART

The L release also shines the spotlight on one of the major weak points of modern day smartphones – battery life. The next edition of Android should be able to last longer thanks to Project Volta. Besides introducing a Battery Saver mode, which will be disabling battery intensive services and throttling the CPU, Google has worked on enhanced data collection and better resource utilization.

There are numerous other enhancements in the next edition of Android, including more useful notifications, easier ways to authenticate and unlock your phone, and better multi-tasking.

Android One

Android One is a set of reference hardware that Google will be creating for smartphone manufacturers. Google is hoping that Android One will enable its partners to quickly create high quality Android phones at a low price point. The Android One initiative will begin in India, with Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice as the OEM partners. Android One phones will ship with stock OS, but Google will allow automatic download of OEM apps (Play auto-install). To put it simply, Android One is Google’s Nexus program re-imagined for the emerging markets. These low-end devices are expected to cost less than a hundred dollars.

Android-One
Android One

Android Wear

Earlier in the summer, Google had offered a sneak peek of Android Wear, its new operating system for wearables. At the Google IO, it released the Android Wear SDK, announced the first devices from its hardware partners, and gave a more detailed look at how Android Wear will work. For apps on your smartphone that support Android Wear, the Wear part of the app will automatically be installed and updated on your watch. This is a major improvement over other wearable operating systems as it avoids the hassle of having to install an app on the tiny watch, and then to go back and install the parent app on the phone. Android Wear will continuously stay in sync with your mobile phone, and will be leveraging voice controls and Google now to make your life simpler.

The first two Android Wear devices to launch are the LG G Watch, and the Samsung Gear Live. Both of them currently available on the play store for $229 and $199 respectively. Motorola’s gorgeous Moto360 will be available later this summer.

Android Auto

As the name suggests, this is Android for cars. The focus with Android auto is on simplified navigation and voice controls. As soon as you plug in your phone in the car, your Android installation is projected on the car’s infotainment system. You can control the OS with your voice as well as by using the controls provided in the car. The focus points of Android Auto are navigation, music, and communication. However, Google will be providing an Android Auto SDK, which will enable developers to extend the experience. Launch partners for Android Auto include Audi and Honda.

Android TV

In a move which surprised absolutely no one, Google also announced Android TV. Television sets are quite often the biggest displays in a household, and Google quite obviously wants to be on them. Android TV features a smart homescreen that acts as your content hub. It features a recommendation screen that’s tuned to your watching habits, apps, and games. Android users will be able to cast multimedia content on their TV, just like you’d be able to do with Chromecast. Gaming is also one of the focus areas of Android TV, with support for multi-player experience between smartphone/tablet users and TV users.

Android-TV
Android TV

Chromecast

Chromecast, which was the unexpected hit of last year, also got its fair share of improvements. It’s no longer necessary for everyone to be on the same network to be able to cast to your TV. You’ll also be able to cast exactly what’s on your Android tablet or smartphone screen (device mirroring) on your TV. There’s also a new Backdrop feature which will allow you to play a slideshow of pictures from your personal gallery as well as Google curated content. Using your TV to play slideshows while no one is paying attention seems to be a massive waste of energy to me, but I guess there must be takers for this. Google also announced the launch of a new website as well as a separate category in the Play Store for Chromecast apps.

Chrome OS

Thanks to updates in the Chrome OS, your Chromebook will now be a lot more in sync with your phone. You’ll be able to unlock your Chromebook automatically if your phone is around. Incoming phone calls and text messages will show on your Chromebook. You’ll get notified when your phone’s battery is low. And finally, you can even run Android apps on your Chromebook. This feature is a work in progress, and might take some time to arrive. However, with all of Android’s powerful apps and games, Chromebooks will suddenly become a lot more useful.

Chrome-OS
Chrome OS running Android App

Google Cardboard

This could have easily been an April fool’s day joke, but it is not. In fact, it’s possibly the weirdest and product on display at Google IO. Google gave away a Cardboard to every attendee. And this, is what I mean by Cardboard.

Google-Cardboard
Google Cardboard

Once you assemble the device, all you need to do is pop in your phone, and launch the Cardboard app. You’ll have a low-tech, but apparently awesome Virtual Reality headset with head tracking (powered by your phone’s accelerometer and gyroscope). The only button on the device is in the form of a metallic ring that you can flick to select items on the screen.

Other Updates

Some of the other stuff that were announced yesterday include:
Google Fit: A fitness platform with a multi-OS API that aims to aggregate a user’s fitness data.
Google Play: Play Games will get Quests and a Saved Game section, while Play Store will be get carrier billing option for user purchases.
Google Cloud: Google announced several enhancements to its Cloud infrastructure which is leveraged by several popular apps and services. A new suite of tools – Cloud Save, Cloud Debugger, Cloud Trace, and Cloud Monitoring – were introduced.
Google Docs: Google’s online suite of productivity apps will now be able to open, edit, and save Office files including Word Documents, Excel Spreadsheets, and PowerPoint Presentations.
Android for Work: Google will be building on the work done by Samsung on Knox to offer a secure environment for enterprise that’ll be separated from your personal data and apps. Drive for work will offer an unlimited storage option for just $10 per user per month.

Know your technology head on